If you’re getting a divorce, do you really need a lawyer?

Dear Liz,
I am planning to tell my husband that I want a divorce. How do I know if I really need a lawyer?

Dear Jessica,

This is a tough one. On the one hand, I want to say that I love your moxie wanting to tackle this on your own. On the other hand, there is no backstory here so I have no idea if you have moxie and want a DIY divorce or not, or really any other details to work from. So, I’m going to turn this over to my pal, Amy, who is a divorce lawyer and can help you better understand some of what a lawyer does.

Here is what Amy had to say:

“There is no law that requires someone to get a lawyer when getting divorced. The best way to determine whether a lawyer is needed is for me to tell you what a lawyer would do. If your reader thinks he/she can do it on his/her own, no need for a lawyer.

A lawyer is charged with the zealous pursuit of his/her client’s interests. If your reader will not act to protect himself or herself, the lawyer will.

The lawyer knows the law applicable in the state. Is your reader willing to research the law regarding parental rights and responsibilities to the children, division of assets and debts and spousal support?

The lawyer will gather necessary information and documents from the opposing spouse to identify the parties’ assets and debts and determine how to divide them. Is your reader willing to go through the minutia of gathering information?

The lawyer will help negotiate the divorce and can be a go-between the spouses if necessary.

The lawyer can help refer his or her client to necessary experts, such as tax professionals and mental health counselors.

The lawyer will consider long-term consequences of the decisions made during the divorce process.

The lawyer will complete court forms and follow through with court filings (“pleadings”) and appearances on behalf of your reader.

The lawyer can help make decisions in a way which is calm and level headed while your reader (and most divorcing folks) are experiencing strong emotions and many times unable to make thoughtful decisions.

Ultimately, the lawyer knows how to best present the evidence to the judge in a trial which is admissible and which will get the best result for his/her client.

The lawyer can also provide wise counsel and be a friendly face as your reader negotiates the court

Overall, I would say a lawyer is not needed for a short-term marriage, with no children, an uncomplicated financial picture, parties on an equitable level in terms of intelligence, education, emotional state and an agreement as to the issues.

I would say a lawyer is necessary if there is any abuse – child, spousal, sexual, substance or if there is an imbalance of power – whether financial, emotional, intellectually. If there is any fear or threat of violence, your reader should talk to a lawyer. I would recommend a lawyer if there are complicated financial issues, such as business entanglements or if there is any dispute about the children or spousal support.”

Good luck to you, Jessica!

~ Liz